MacLeod v Alberta College of Social Workers, 2018 ABCA 13, highlights that a person under investigation must be given reasonable particulars of the allegations against them.
Ms. MacLeod was a Registered Social Worker and had been a member of the Alberta College of Social Workers (the “College”) for about twenty-five years at the time of the underlying events. Ms. MacLeod’s employment record disclosed a lengthy history of communication issues and other workplace difficulties between her and her co-workers. Based on complaints received from her coworkers and supervisors, the College proceeded with four allegations against Ms. MacLeod, including that she was dismissive, rude, and abrupt to fellow staff members, clients, and their family members.
The allegations before the Hearing Tribunal were limited to a scope of two years; however, at the hearing, the Tribunal admitted evidence about related events involving Ms. McLeod that occurred over a span of about thirteen years. Based on the entirety of the evidence admitted, the Hearing Tribunal found that all of the allegations had been proven. Ms. MacLeod appealed the findings to the Council of the College and then to the Court of Appeal. She argued, in part, that the College failed to provide her with particulars of the allegations and that the Hearing Tribunal incorrectly interpreted the scope of the allegations and made unreasonable findings of guilt.
The Alberta Court of Appeal allowed the appeal. In doing so, the Court stressed the important function served by sufficient particulars. Particulars provide the details of an allegation. They define what is alleged to have been done, when it was done and to whom, for example. Particulars help the professional to identify the event that is said to amount to unprofessional conduct and in effect, limits the scope of the allegations so that the individual does not have to defend his or her entire career or general character during a hearing. Similarly, allegations must be specific enough for the member to know the case he or she has to meet. Particulars are also present during the investigative stage. The Court suggested that if investigators begin investigating matters outside the scope of an original complaint, they must ensure that the member is given particulars of those additional matters before the investigation is completed.
The Court also highlighted the constraints that allegations place on tribunals. The allegations represent the only matters on which a tribunal can make findings of unprofessional conduct and a tribunal must confine its findings of unprofessional conduct to the exact allegations before it. While the substance of the allegation may be supported by evidence of related events, this cannot independently support a finding of unprofessional conduct or expand the scope of the allegations. The Court of Appeal held that the Hearing Tribunal erred when it found Ms. McLeod guilty of an allegation that alleged conduct between 2012 and 2014 based on evidence of general rudeness spanning the period from 2001 to 2014.
Comment: This decision highlights the importance of particulars during the investigation of complaints and the drafting of allegations. While a regulator is not confined to the content of a complaint, it must ensure that when an investigation is expanded beyond the scope of the initial complaint, it provides expanded particulars to investigated member. Further, the particulars of the allegations provide members with notice of the specific allegations being made. It is therefore important when investigating a complaint and drafting allegations that regulators bear in mind whether sufficient particulars have been provided to the member so that the member can know what is being investigated and they can know the case they have to meet if allegations of unprofessional conduct are made.